Never Quit

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This has been my mantra for the past 12 months.

Many of you know that I’ve been on a quest to regain my status as a long-distance runner.  I started really running again on April 15, 2013 while in Portland, Oregon. This was the first time I’d dedicated myself to running in 8 years. Afterwords, I felt like a walking sore muscle the next day and couldn’t run for two days.

But I ran.  

I found the C25K app and began to put it to use.  As I ran through April and May, I battled IT band issues, finding the right shoes, the right bra (ugh), lower back pain (and it going out on me again….and again…and again….), sore feet, and an assortment of aches and pains that my body certainly didn’t recall when I was 8 years younger.

But I ran.

In June, I ran my first 5K in 8 years, with my ACUHO-I family cheering me on (and my GLACUHO brother, Jody Stone, by my side).  I was tired, hot, exhausted, but elated with my accomplishment.

And I ran.

Within 4 months – with the help of some intentional restraint (my Activator hated that) and the support of many friends along the way – I ran.  I made it through a 4 mile run with my Northwestern University colleagues. I battled foot injuries and major inflammation – but found ways through training, stretching and that AWFUL foam roller to make it through.

And I kept running.

I hit the 7 mile mark – elated that it had been 8 years since I’d run this far.  I felt strong, confident and sure of myself. I signed up for a 1/2 Marathon in September. I kept to my schedule and extended my long runs on the weekends.  First 7.5 miles, then 8, then 9….

…and then I got injured.  I developed a slight tear in my calf muscle.  I was frustrated, but made the decision to do what was right.  I rehabbed it and got back out there, strong enough to run the 10K instead of the 1/2 marathon with two dear friends in September.

And I ran.

And I kept running, until two weeks later, another injury sidelined me for over a month – a lower back problem coupled with the same calf problem and foot pain.  I backed off and rehabbed again by using a bike and elliptical.

And I kept rehabbing.  I tried running again in November and December, only to hurt my thigh muscle.  Tried again, and the balls of my feet were in so much pain that walking on my left foot became almost unbearable for two days.  I stopped running in December, determined to heal myself.  After some rest, I started up again in January and tried one more time – this time through the hills of Texas once I was cleared by my doctor – and aggravated my IT band again.

I hit one or two short runs after that, and some run-walks along the way, and during conference travel season for Student Affairs, I used the gyms in the hotels relentlessly – trying to rehab myself. I ran in March in Baltimore (at NASPA) and pulled another muscle.

And so in March and April – I stopped.  I needed to just refocus, calm down, and let my body lead me. Sure, I was frustrated, angry, and I initially felt like a failure, until I stopped beating myself up and faced a very simple fact.

Just because I stopped to regroup didn’t mean I was quitting. I wasn’t quitting. Quitting is letting go of and giving up on a dream, and I wasn’t letting go of my desire to get back to true long-distance running. This wasn’t quitting – it was starting over.  

Sometimes in life we have to let go of one path to find another.  I know there is another way – and by starting over, I have the time to figure out what that path may be. Researchers, programmers, designers, artists, business owners, and even athletes do this regularly.  To learn, we have to give ourselves the space to both unlearn poor patterns and learn from mistakes made along the way.

We all end up in a spot like this  – maybe it’s with a relationship, or a job, or a project or even with our health. But owning when that moment arrives, sitting back, and letting your body/mind/spirit talk to you is the only way to regain your composure and discover your true course.  This approach lets you reset your compass so you can chart a new path – and to do that you have to be still.  And listen.

Today, I ran for the first time in 16 days.  I have done no impact exercise of any kind before today.  The run was difficult – but I did it. And my path involved truly starting over.  I dusted off the C25K app, and I forced myself to start again from square one.  It felt easy and hard at the same time – easy because the distance was so short – hard because my body was waking up from over two weeks of recovery and slumber. I ended the run with a short walk, and yoga in complete silence.  And I listened.

I started over.  I found a new path. And I will not quit.

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Pay It Forward – #JPKBday Style

Another birthday has come and gone. And I have to say – it was a great one!

Yes, I had a cold all weekend.  Yes, the weather took a turn for the worse.  And yes, I spent most of the time in my house and in and around the campus.  Most people might not call this the most exciting day – but I loved every second of it.  After a whirlwind of traveling to professional conferences and presentations, this weekend at home was perfect (not to mention, good for my cold!).

But what made this birthday even more special were the many moments of kindness shown to me during a 24 hour time period. Oftentimes we take for granted the quick “HBD!” posts on Facebook, or the quick “Hope you had a great b-day!” texts from friends. If you find yourself doing this – stop.  In our fast-paced world, remember that someone took a moment, thought of you, and cared enough to reach out and show that they care.  Maybe they sent you a quick video, or left you a voice mail singing “Happy Birthday”, or better yet – sent you a link to a Weird Al Yankovic version of the song (you know who you are).  Still others took additional time to send you photos of fun times you had together, a personal message, an e-card, or posted a superhero graphic representation of how amazing they think you are.  Still others found personal and meaningful quotes to share with you about something that reminded them of you.  In our social media world – these are the cards, these are the phone calls, and these are the personal ways that others reach out and connect with you.

As I read through the kindness I received yesterday, in addition to my “thank you” posts and “likes”, I decided to pay it forward in a different way.  I counted the number of “Happy Birthday!” posts, tweets, phone calls, songs, videos, links, and verbal greetings I received, and donated $1.00 for each one of them to The Representation Project, and organization that “uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness toward change”.  And yes – repeats counted individually! 🙂

To me, this blends my passion for gender equity with the action of paying things forward. This also translates your kindness into the best gift I could receive – that of making a difference in the lives of women and girls worldwide. So thank you to everyone for your kindness, and know that every one of you helped to make not only my day, but hopefully the coming days for women and girls, something amazing and special, too.

With gratitude,

Dr. JPK